If a particularly close basketball game puts Maine Red Claws fans on the edge of their seats this winter, they’re going to have to scooch a few inches farther.

That’s because the Portland Expo is replete with new seats. They’re a little wider, a lot more comfortable and offer more leg room.

Workers are putting the finishing touches this week on the $360,000 project – paid for by the Red Claws – in time for Saturday’s Select-A-Seat event, where fans can inspect the new seating and choose a location for their season tickets. Individual game tickets will be put on sale late this month.

Ticket prices are unchanged from last season for the Red Claws, who open their seventh D-League season next month.

“Definitely an upgrade,” said Andrew Downs, director of public assembly facilities for the city of Portland. “It’s going to be a more comfortable and enjoyable experience all around, not just for the Red Claws games but all the events we have.”

Spectators of roller derby and mixed martial arts already have sampled the upgrade for backsides. Downs said all the feedback he heard was positive.

“It’s exciting and they were comfortable,” he said.

Hussey Seating of North Berwick designed, built and installed the new seats, which reduce the Expo capacity by about 200 to 2,717.

Bill Ryan Jr., principal owner of the Red Claws, said giving up a few hundred seats was a worthwhile trade.

“I would rather have 2,717 comfortable people,” he said. “People expect more and more comfort every year from sports facilities. We constantly try to improve our fan experience.”

Ryan was once an investor in a potential development project at Thompson’s Point that could have included a new home for the Red Claws, but no longer. The team recently extended its lease agreement with the city from 2019 to 2024, plus an option for five more years.

“If they were to do something, we would look at it,” Ryan said of the 32-acre site along the Fore River, “but now we needed to do something here to make our fans more comfortable, knowing that we’re going to be here for some stretch of time.”

Ryan spoke Tuesday from one of the new stadium-style chairs, which include arm rests and a folding seat back. There are two sections of these seats, on each side of the midcourt line, 379 in all.

Flanking each center-court seating area are sections of bleacher seats with backrests totaling 424. Also new are eight sections of improved bleacher seats without backs totaling 1,081.

The sections behind each baseline – Ryan referred to them as end-zone seating – remain unchanged. All the new seats are blue, not that red wasn’t a consideration.

“We thought about it,” said Dajuan Eubanks, the Red Claws’ president. “But we share the facility with Portland High School and this is a city building, and blue is one of the colors they use throughout, so we didn’t want to change the schematic that way.”

Eubanks said the team has invested close to $850,000 in the Expo since beginning operations in 2009.

The bottom line, Ryan said, is that renovating the seats made economic sense.

“The secondary viewpoint is that the city of Portland has been great to us, as have the people of Portland,” Ryan said. “So if we can do something that not only benefits us and our fans, but benefits the city and the Expo here, we’re happy to do it.

“I don’t want to sound 100 percent altruistic because it’s not. It’s about our business. But that secondary effect of helping the building as a whole is something that’s meaningful to us.”

Saturday’s event is free and runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It includes a chance to win a season ticket by sinking a half-court basket and, at noon, a hot-shot challenge for local television, radio and print personalities to win donations for local charities.

Coach Scott Morrison, who led the Claws to a franchise-best 35-15 record and earned the league’s Coach of the Year award, will return with most of his staff intact. The lone exception is assistant Nathaniel Mitchell, who took a similar position in his native Toronto with Raptors 905, Toronto’s new D-League affiliate.

The annual D-League draft is scheduled for Oct. 31 with Maine’s training camp opening Nov. 2. The Red Claws open the season Nov. 12 in Westchester, New York, and play their first home game Nov. 20 against Raptors 905, which is actually based in Mississauga, Ontario, a Toronto suburb.


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